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Oil spill off Tobago was one of T&T’s worst

Monday, December 30, 2013

For more than a week an oil spill in south Trinidad has made headlines as clean-up efforts and containment by the Petroleum Company of T&T Limited (Petrotrin) have been slow.  The spill which was initially discovered in Pointe-a-Pierre on December 17, and initially claimed by Petrotrin to have been contained there, has affected the Point Fortin and La Brea communities and the south-western coastline. Residents, fishermen and marine life have been affected by the widespread damage and environmentalists have been critical.



This was not the first oil spill to occur so close to T&T shores. Back in 1979, one of the worst recorded oil spills in history happened just ten miles off Tobago. On July 19 that year, two vessels loaded with a combined total of about 500,000 tonnes of crude oil collided causing fires on both ships, and resulting oil spills. According to reports, the total loss of the 280,000 tonnes of oil as a result of that collision was in the top ten of world records for an oil tanker accident. An impact study was never undertaken.


In a telephone interview yesterday Secretary of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) Gary Aboud was asked to compare the 1979 spill with last week’s in terms of impact, but said it was difficult to compare due to the differing nature of both locations. Aboud was not living in T&T at that time, and could not comment on clean up efforts, but said the impact would be based on different points. He said the Gulf of Paria was a smaller, contained area, and so there would be a higher concentration of toxins.


“The Gulf of Paria is a very shallow basin, so the impact based on volume of water would be different. The concentration of contaminants would be immense.” Aboud said the 1979 spill occurred in the open sea, so the volume of water impacted was substantially more. Another difference was that the Gulf of Paria was a spawning area, and so the recent oil spill would severely impact the food chain and circle of life for marine life.


“Migratory species heading to Gulf would be impacted. Future food for other fish would be gone, and the population of some species would drop.” He said the so-called contingency plans for the current oil spill were a disgrace, and that even though it was Christmas, it was a terrible day. “Imagine the Government doesn’t have equipment for an oil spill. T&T has no emergency response capacity.”


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